Experience report about staying at the exclusive Tortuga Lodge & Gardens in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.
At 2 am the rain starts. The heavy water droplets sound suspiciously close, almost as if we had left a window open. Then we remember that our room does not have any window panes, only mosquito nets. This is part of the incredible concept of the exclusive Tortuga Lodge & Gardens in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. The goal is to bring guests as close to the magic of Costa Rica’s pristine rainforests as possible. And what better way to do that than having them immersed in the sounds of the jungle day and night?
But right now it is pitch-black and the only sounds to be heard are the torrential cries of a tropical rainstorm. Every time the thunder roars, the earth shakes. The sound is so intense, that we feel the ground vibrating as we lie in bed. The rain is quite literally bucketing down. But the ambiance is ethereal in its roughness.
Waking up a few hours later we are greeted by beautiful sunshine. The weather in Tortuguero is unpredictable. These are the tropics, frequent weather swings are part of daily life. Nobody bats an eye when the weather changes from sunshine to a heavy downpour and back within half an hour.
Walking through the beautifully kept garden, we make our way to the restaurant for an à la carte breakfast. We cannot imagine a better way to start the day than being served fresh tropical fruits. From our vantage point in the restaurant, we look out onto the large Tortuguero Lagoon and the little sliver of land that separates it from the Atlantic Ocean.
Over there, we can also see the local airport, which is nothing more than a single-lane runway that is used twice a day for flying in travellers. Visitors to Tortuga Lodge have two modes of transport to choose from - taking the plane from the capital of San José, or boarding a boat from La Pavona or Puerto Limón. There are no roads leading into this jungle paradise, most traffic is waterborne. This makes out a large part of Tortuguero’s charm, as it allows the local wildlife to flourish and helps keep the ecosystem intact.
At Tortuga Lodge, wild animals are never far. The expansive garden can be explored day and night, and more often than not visitors will spot some wildlife. Of course, the chances drastically increase when joining a trained biologist on one of the free Lodge Garden Tours. Where we only see the dense jungle, the guide detects well-camouflaged animals in the lush canopy with uncanny precision. In just 45 minutes he identifies a large monitor lizard sleeping on a branch, a young caiman in a pond, a group of resting bats, and birds, lots of colourful birds. During daytime, the garden is alive with their songs. Especially striking are the different brightly coloured toucans that eagerly feed on the dates of the palm trees.
The loud rustling of the leaves also reveals the location of another animal. A group of howler monkeys has found their way into the garden. The largest monkeys of Costa Rica live off a completely vegetarian diet mostly consisting of leaves. Unperturbed by our presence, they feed in the trees just meters away. During the day, they are unusually quiet, but at dawn and dusk, their howls can be heard echoing for kilometres through the densely packed jungle.
Aside from its well-maintained garden, Tortuga Lodge also has its own set of rainforest hiking trails which allow guests to experience the wilderness of the national park without ever leaving the lodge property. Equipped with a pair of rubber boots we explore the flooded trails. Bringing bug spray is a necessity, as the surrounding swamp is a perfect breeding site for voracious mosquitos. After a few meters on the trail, we start to spot countless poison dart frogs. These tiny critters barely reach a size of 2 cm, but their striking red color, which acts as a warning sign for predators, reveals their location. We know that this jungle must be teeming with life, but without a trained guide it is a challenge to spot any of the well-hidden animals.
Back at the lodge, we decide that it is time to exchange the humidity for the refreshing water of the infinity pool. Holding onto the edge, we look out over the lagoon while a monitor lizard rests in the nearby shade. We take this as a sign that it is time for a siesta. Each one of the 27 rustic rooms comes with a hammock that is well-suited for an extended rest. It does not take long for us to doze off.
After having recharged our batteries, we arrange for a complimentary boat trip to the other side of the lagoon. While waiting for our captain, we strike up a conversation with the friendly reception staff. Amidst much laughter, she shares the Costa Rican understanding of Pura Vida with us. More than just a proverb, Pura Vida is an approach to life for many Costa Ricans. It means to embrace life to its fullest, with all its ups and downs, and smile whenever possible.
Leaving our new friend with a big smile, we put on our life jackets and cross the lagoon in a little dinghy. A short trail leads us across the airfield to the beach.
The Tortuguero Beach is a favourite breeding site for Green and Hawksbill turtles that arrive between July and October to lay their eggs in the dark of the night. After digging a hole with their flippers, the female turtle deposits up to 100 eggs in the warm sand. 50 to 70 days later, the hatchlings fight their way through the sand and towards the ocean.
With dusk approaching, we walk up and down the beach looking out for hatchlings. After we have almost given up, we spot a single turtle. Ecstatic, we escort it to the water's edge, hoping that it will one day return to this very beach to lay its eggs.
And maybe we will be back at Tortuga Lodge to witness it.